Logan v. Arafeh

Decision Date13 September 1972
Docket NumberCiv. No. 14386.
Citation346 F. Supp. 1265
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Connecticut
PartiesJames LOGAN et al. v. Mehadin K. ARAFEH et al.

Daniel Oran, Robert G. Fracasso, Legal Aid, New Britain, Conn., for plaintiffs.

Francis J. MacGregor, Asst. Atty. Gen., East Hartford, Conn., for defendants.

Before SMITH, Circuit Judge, and BLUMENFELD and CLARIE, District Judges.

MEMORANDUM OF DECISION FINDINGS OF FACT and CONCLUSIONS OF LAW

BLUMENFELD, District Judge:

The plaintiffs, who are or at one time were involuntary patients at the Connecticut Valley Hospital in Middletown, Connecticut,1 seek a declaratory judgment that Conn.Gen.Stats. § 17-183, as amended by 1971 Public Act No. 760, the "emergency" civil commitment statute, and Conn.Gen.Stats. § 17-178, as amended by 1971 Public Act No. 760, the "probate" commitment statute, are unconstitutional and a preliminary and permanent injunction enjoining their enforcement.

The defendant Mehadin K. Arafeh is sued individually and in his official capacity as Superintendent of the Connecticut Valley Hospital; defendant Ernest Shepard is sued individually and in his official capacity as Commissioner of Mental Health of the State of Connecticut; and defendant Walter P. Staniszewski is sued individually and in his official capacity as Judge of the probate court for Middlesex County.

Jurisdiction is properly asserted under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and 28 U.S.C. § 1343. Since the complaint draws into question the constitutionality of state statutes, a three judge district court was convened pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 2281 and 2284.

I. Emergency Commitment

The plaintiffs first attack as unconstitutional the emergency commitment statute, Conn.Gen.Stats. § 17-183, as amended, which provides for the involuntary commitment of a person to a hospital for mental illness if a physician certifies that he "is a danger to himself or others" as a result of mental illness. The plaintiffs claim that § 17-183 is violative of the due process clause of the fourteenth amendment primarily on the ground that it authorizes confinement without prior notice and hearing and that the provision for an automatic post-commitment judicial review of the validity of confinement is unreasonably postponed.2

Section 17-183 authorizes the emergency commitment of a person to a hospital for mental illness for not more than fifteen days without prior notice or hearing. If a patient committed to such a hospital under § 17-183 is unwilling to remain voluntarily he must be released unless formal commitment proceedings are instituted against him within fifteen days in the probate court pursuant to § 17-178. On the timely commencement of such proceedings, confinement may be continued for an additional thirty days without further court order.3 Under those proceedings, the patient is afforded a number of due process safeguards. These include reasonable notice to the patient "and to such relative or relatives and friends as . . . (deemed) advisable," a judicial hearing to determine whether the patient should be committed under § 17-178, and the compulsory attendance at this hearing of the patient who has the right to be represented by counsel and the right to present witnesses in his own behalf and to cross-examine adverse witnesses.4 In short, if a patient committed under § 17-183 is confined more than fifteen days, there must be a judicial determination of the validity of his confinement within no more than forty-five days from the date of his initial commitment.

Due process "is an elusive concept," the content of which "varies according to specific factual contexts." Hannah v. Larche, 363 U.S. 420, 442, 80 S.Ct. 1502, 1514, 4 L.Ed.2d 1307 (1960); see Goldberg v. Kelly, 397 U.S. 254, 263, 90 S.Ct. 1011, 25 L.Ed.2d 287 (1970); Fhagen v. Miller, 29 N.Y.2d 348, 328 N. Y.S.2d 393, 396, 278 N.E.2d 615 (1972).

"(C)onsideration of what procedures due process may require under any given set of circumstances must begin with a determination of the precise nature of the government function involved as well as the private interest that has been affected by governmental action." Cafeteria and Restaurant Workers Union, Local 473, AFL-CIO v. McElroy, 367 U.S. 886, 895, 81 S.Ct. 1743, 1748, 6 L.Ed.2d 1230 (1961).

The emergency commitment to a hospital for mental illness on a temporary basis of a person on the finding of a physician that he is a danger to himself or others without prior notice and hearing does not offend the due process clause provided there is available to him an adequate means of testing the validity of his confinement within a reasonable period of time. Fhagen v. Miller, 306 F. Supp. 634, 638 (S.D.N.Y.1969); Fhagen v. Miller, supra, 328 N.Y.S.2d at 396, 278 N.E.2d at 617; In re Coates, 9 N.Y.2d 242, 249, 213 N.Y.S.2d 74, 79, 173 N.E. 2d 797, 801 (1961); see also, Anderson v. Solomon, 315 F.Supp. 1192, 1194 (D. Md.1970). That is the case here.

The constitutional challenge directed against the period of emergency confinement authorized by § 17-183 without notice and hearing and before judicial review would appear to be adequately overcome by the provision for notice and judicial review before an order of commitment can become final.

The Time Allowed

One aspect of § 17-183 which has been signaled out as constitutionally objectionable is the fact that under the provisions of this statute a person who is certified by a physician to be a "danger to himself or others" may remain confined for as long as forty-five days before a judicial determination of the validity of his confinement. The plaintiffs contend that forty-five days is outside the limits of what is reasonable. Confinement for forty-five days before that determination is not so baseless as to be unconstitutional. There is a reasonable connection between the time allowed and the objective sought.

Testimony received from expert witnesses5 established that the fifteen day leeway after initial commitment before judicial proceedings must be begun is not simply for the purpose of delay. It has a positive aspect as well. There is a compensating advantage to the committed person because in many cases during this period the medical staff at the hospital can adequately alleviate his mental illness or by use of non-emergency diagnostic procedures determine that he is not a "danger to himself or others." In such cases, the stigma of court record is avoided and the length of confinement is shortened. It must be remembered that commitment has not been undertaken for the sake of penal detention. The patient is committed for treatment and care,6 and some knowledge of his mental condition can be gained by visual observation and diagnostic tests. This takes time. On the other hand, where a full blown court trial must be had pursuant to § 17-178, additional time to undertake more elaborate testing of the patient's mental condition, and a more detailed probe into his relevant history, by both the hospital authorities and the expert witnesses who will testify in behalf of the patient is needed.7

While it is possible that all of this could be concentrated into a shorter period of time, we are satisfied that the time which is allowed by the statute is not so unreasonably long as to amount to a denial of due process. The time provisions set by the legislature are fully supported by the opinions of competent physicians specializing in the treatment and care of persons suffering from mental illness. We hold that there is a rational basis for the time allowed by the statute.

Furthermore, in addition to those proceedings which the state is compelled to initiate against the committed person in order to extend his confinement beyond a temporary fifteen day period, he may, on his own initiative, challenge the legality of his confinement at any time during the period of his confinement through a habeas corpus proceeding in the state courts. See Mayock v. Martin, 157 Conn. 56, 245 A.2d 574 (1968). In this regard, it should be noted that such a proceeding is privileged with respect to assignment for trial. Connecticut Practice Book § 213(10). The plaintiffs contend that as a practical matter this remedy is unavailable because there is no statute or administrative regulation which specifically provides that a patient committed under § 17-183 be informed of the availability of habeas corpus as a remedy for illegal confinement and that he be assisted in filing a habeas corpus petition if he so desires. A statute or regulation providing that a person committed under an emergency certificate be given prompt notice of the right to seek habeas corpus relief would certainly be both desirable and feasible, compare regulations adopted under New York's Mental Hygiene Law; Fhagen v. Miller, supra, 328 N.Y.S.2d at 397, 278 N.E.2d at 618, but we do not regard them as constitutionally required. While a patient committed under § 17-183 has been certified by a physician to be a danger to himself or others as a result of mental illness, it does not follow that he is incapable of availing himself of the habeas corpus remedy. As Judge Smith stated in Winters v. Miller, 446 F.2d 65, 68 (2d Cir.1971), "a finding of `mental illness' even by a judge or jury, and commitment to a hospital, does not raise even a presumption that the patient is `incompetent' or unable adequately to manage his own affairs." And in the case of a person not sufficiently mentally ill to warrant hospitalization, there is even less reason to expect that he is not capable of understanding his situation.

After an initial emergency commitment authorized by § 17-183, the proceedings required to be instituted thereafter for continuation of commitment under § 17-178 calling for a judicial decision after receiving evidence from a general physician and a psychiatrist in an adversary hearing is fully adequate to safeguard against involuntary commitment through mistake or abuse. The...

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    ...of a three judge ruling that a statute allowing confinement for up to 45 days without a hearing was constitutional. Logan v. Arafeh, 346 F.Supp. 1265 (D.Conn.1972), aff'd sum. nom. Briggs v. Arafeh, 411 U.S. 911, 93 S.Ct. 1556, 36 L.Ed.2d 304 The district court panel did not rely exclusivel......
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